Hotel and Airbnb Security
This will be a multi-part series of posts about hotel security. I will first cover the peeping tom threat, and in later posts, I will cover forced entry, theft, and other threats.
The Peeping Tom (Perv)
The most likely and vulnerable entry point into a hotel is the door that leads to the room, and one of the more “hackable” items in a hotel room is the peephole. A very famous case of using the peephole to spy on someone was in 2008 when ESPN sportscaster Erin Andrews was in a Tennessee hole and she was spied on. Michael David Barrett intentionally rented the room next to Andrews and use the peephole to film her undressing and walking around her room in the nude. She ended up suing the hotel for $75 million (settling for $55 million).
It wasn’t long after that, that someone discovered that you can reverse the peephole and spy into the room. Now this device was first designed for police use so they could see inside the room before they forcibly entered the room. But of course, some pervert got ahold of the idea and now there is a device that is available on Amazon and many other sites for under $30. You simply use the viewer to reverse the peephole and there you go.
Or you could do what this guy does
This is why you need to cover your peephole when not in use. I used to wad up some toilet tissue and stuff in the hole, and the problem is solved. Now I have an earplug that I use specifically for that issue, it is orange and that helps me to remember to remove it when I leave.
Hotels and Airbnb have had several cases where someone placed a hidden camera in the room to film what is going on in the room. These cameras can look like everyday items. So you need to be thorough when you look for them. They usually face the bed or the bathroom, the shower, or the mirror. A hidden camera may have been placed there by an employee of the hotel, a former guest, or by a legal authority. When we are talking about hidden cameras, we aren’t talking about things like:
I’m talking about everyday items like:
The problem with hidden cameras is there is no tried and true way to detect them. Here are some other suggestions you can try when looking for hidden cameras.
This is likely the most thorough method but requires patience and knowledge (you should get familiar with how hidden cameras are hidden) and access to areas that you may not have physical access to. You can look at the smoke alarm, but removing it from the wall or ceiling and opening it up, might not be possible. The same would apply to removing artwork from the wall and opening up the wall to see what is behind it. But you can still perform a thorough physical inspection.
Start in one room on one wall. Let’s use the bathroom in this case.
We start with the wall that has the sink. Take a look, up in the corners, check the mirror (more on the mirror later), and carefully inspect the items on the counter, like the tissue holder or the air freshener. The look is under the counter, which is a very popular place to hide a camera as it is well hidden and is the right level to catch any activity on the toilet. Check the waste paper basket and any other items that may be laying around. Keep in mind that the cameras are about the size of a dine and as thick as two or three dimes stacked on top of each other, so any place that can hold something that size needs to be inspected. And they only need a pinhole to see what is going on.
What you are looking for is a small pinhole that doesn’t belong there, this is where the camera lens would be hidden behind. Look for an access door or a battery (or battery compartment) that doesn’t belong. Wires are also something to look for if there should be a wire there.
Once you are done with one wall, move to the next. Once you have all the walls done, look up and down. The smoke detector and air vent are very common places to hide a camera as well.
You are also looking for an object that doesn’t belong or is placed in a strange location. Like the clock radio is facing the bed or is a decorative figurine in the bathroom or maybe a motion detector in a bedroom (this was in an Airbnb).
When you are looking for hidden cameras, don’t just think that they might catch you naked, think that they might be in areas where you might have a credit card displayed or where you might type a password. Those two items are like gold to a hacker, scammer, or criminal.
Flashlight and Camera
Turn on your smartphone’s camera and flashlight and slowly scan the room (I always bring with me a small high-powered 300 or more Lumens, flashlight with me when I travel). The lenses of these hidden devices are typically glass, so they will be more reflective than the plastic they are housed in. What you are looking for is a glint of light shining back at you. If you spot any coming from an object, examine it more closely. You may have just found a hidden camera.
Lens detection is very effective if used properly, but it requires patience and proper technique. If you are too far from the lens, sweep the room too quickly, or are just standing at the wrong angle from the lens, then you’ll likely miss seeing the lens when it reflects the light from your own light source.
It might help to turn on your cellphone video camera and record as you go, then play it back, the phone camera lens might show something different than what you saw with your naked eyes.
Scan for wireless or Bluetooth signals
Many of the hidden devices have wireless or Bluetooth capabilities so the video on the camera can be viewed live. Using your smartphone and an app like Fing, it will display wireless networks. Most of the time Fing won’t be able to label the connected device as a camera, but it will give you the MAC address of the device (MAC is a hardware code assigned to each network device). Then you use MacVendorLookup.com to look at the MAC addresses and see what type of device the addresses belong to.
Another method might be to use an RF detector. In most cases, an app like Fing isn’t going to help much, and that is where an RF detector comes in. Since all wireless devices communicate via radio frequency (RF) then an RF detector might help you home in on the location of the source of the RF signal, thus the camera.
Some people state that magnetic field detection works, but I tried Bluetooth scanning, RF scanning, and magnetic field testing on several cameras and I was NOT able to effectively detect them. I’m not saying that I didn’t pick up any Bluetooth, RF, or magnetic fields, I’m stating that what I did detect, I wasn’t able to effectively pinpoint the actual location of the device emitting the signal or magnetic field.
I put some of these apps to the test and I will cover them in a future post.
The mirror in the bathroom or in any room for that manner is an old-school tried and true method of hiding a camera. The mirror can be a one-way or two-way mirror. If it is a real one-way mirror, meaning that it is a piece of glass with a film of reflective material on the back of the glass, then you should be able to put your finger up tight against the glass and there will be a gap between the tip of your finger and the reflection. If it is a two-way mirror meaning it is a piece of glass that can be seen through from both sides, put your finger up tight against the glass, and thee should not be a gap between the tip of your finger and the reflection.
Another way you can validate if it is a real mirror is what is known as the torch test. Turn off the lights in the room and take a bright flashlight and place it against the glass and turn it on. If you see nothing but the reflection, it is a standard mirror. If you see something behind it or a hole in the camera, then Houston, we have a problem.
This sadly isn’t just an Airbnb or hotel/motel problem. There are documented cases of hidden cameras being found in public restrooms, dressing rooms in clothing stores and big-box stores like Wal-Mart, and even in the private bathrooms at a friend’s house.
If You Find
Don’t touch it, you can be charged with wilful damage to the property if you manipulate it in any way. You are permitted to block it or cover it, as long as you do not damage it. You should immediately call Airbnb directly (not the property owner). If this is a hotel, call the national number for the chain first before you call the manager of the local hotel. It could be the manager that is responsible for it in the first place. I also recommend that you contact the local police on their non-emergency phone number and have them investigate. If this is an Airbnb, call Airbnb directly, not the property owner. It is also wise to take photos and videos of what you found in the event you require it later. When you get back from your trip, get a good lawyer, because you have a nice little lawsuit.
Note: It is extremely rare and very costly to the hotel if one is discovered, so unlikely there is one, but it still happens:
Creeps put ‘spy cams’ in hotel rooms, live-streamed video online
Hidden camera found in high schoolers’ hotel rooms during class trip
Man in Osaka accused of secretly filming women in hotel with hidden camera
Smriti Irani filmed trying on clothes in Goa
In the next post, I will cover more items for hotel security.